I get to the Rio about 10 a.m. and find out soon after that Nichoel Peppe, the young woman I spent the day with the previous day, is going to be at the secondary feature table to begin the day. I had gotten her and her husband's cell phone numbers the night before and not wanting to bother Nichoel as she got ready for play, I called Tad's number. He answers after a few rings.
“Tell your girl to put her best makeup on,” I say.
“Feature table?” he asks.
“You got it,” I tell him.
“Nice,” he says. “Thanks for telling us! We'll see you in a bit.”
About an hour later, I meet Tad and Nichoel as they are walking into the Rio. They are going through the last minute process of getting a sponsorship deal lined up for the rest of the Main Event. The two are met in the hallway from a representative from Poker Royalty, who starts to guide them down a back hall way to their private room. I start to turn off to head back to the media area but Tad asks me to follow along. We get to their private room and the agent opens the door. I'm not trying to impose, especially since I am a member of the media, so I stand behind and the agent shuts the door. I hear Tad say inside, “Where's Aaron? He's with us.” Tad opens the door and says, “Come on in Aaron.”
The deal is a pretty good one from ones I have heard of and seen in the past but Tad's an aggressive guy. He believes in his wife and tries to up the numbers they are offering. The agent insists this is the best he can do. I look over the numbers and it's like five minutes until the final table starts. I tell Tad the bonus numbers are in lines with what I've seen and that the signing amount is higher than most players get in these types of deals. Nichoel has her heart set on signing with PokerStars as it's the only site she plays on. She seems pleased with the numbers and signs the deal.
The agent gives Nichoel a hat and PokerStars patch, she signs the preliminary agreement, and scurries off to take her seat. She's at the secondary feature table so Tad and I take spots in the elevated area right behind. It's a good view and we can see the action pretty well.
Nichoel gets off to a solid start when she three bets the big stack at the table's opening raise from the cutoff (she is one to his left) and he folds. Nichoel is worried about how the hat is making her look. She's afraid it is making her ears stick out and she comes over to Tad and says, “Does this hat look ok?” Tad and I both tell her she looks great.
Nichoel tangles with the Austrian chip leader again when she raises to 40K under the gun and he calls out of the big blind. The flop comes and the Austrian leads out for 47K. Nichoel calls quickly. The turn is the and the Austrian leads out again, this time for 82K. Nichoel makes it 302K to go. The Austrian takes his hat off and looks quickly at Nichoel, not happy. He doesn't take too long though and folds.
Crazy Aunt Lisa has joined us and Tad and Lisa cheer the latest pot. ESPN comes over and asks if they know Nichoel and they tell them who they are. The ESPN producer tells the camera and mic man who they are. Lisa in the meantime tells me a story about how when Nichoel was a kid that you couldn't tell her what to do. “She'd say 'you're not the boss of me',” Lisa laughed. I asked Nichoel about that later and she laughed and said “I still say that now.” Lisa goes on to say how she wanted Nichoel's poker nickname to be “The Boss” and I gave a slightly disgusted look and say, “Yuck.” Tad laughs and says, “My thoughts exactly.”
Nichoel steals the blinds once and then raises from under the gun again and gets four callers. The flop comes and the big blind checks. Nichoel leads out for 125K. I look at Tad and whisper, “She has to have something here, she wouldn't bet into four people in this spot with nothing.” He agrees. Only one player calls. The turn is the and Nichoel checks. Her opponent puts out a very small bet of 100K. Nichoel check raises and makes it 350K to go. She puts her head down on her left hand and stares straight ahead as her opponent tries to get a read on her. He looks as if he thinks he's beat and doesn't want to call. He has the chips to make the call in his right hand and is carefully shuffling them. Reluctantly, he places the chips into the middle. The river is the and Nichoel quickly checks. Tad grimaces and says, “That was the worst card in the deck for her.” Her opponent grabs a big stack of green chips and starts to laugh. He looks at his friends on the rail, and smiles. “I play bad,” he says and checks. Nichoel shows A-K but her opponent had rivered her with K-Q to win the pot and drop her down to 1.3 million. Tad mutters under his breath. “Damnit, f***ing river.”
Minutes later Tad is still muttering to himself. “Three outs damnit.” Nichoel on the other hand, seems fine. She's calm, cool, and collected. 15 minutes later Tad is still talking to himself. “F***ing queen on the river!” Tad's a poker player and it shows.
The other girl left in the Main Event, Leo Margets, is at the table and is playing ultra conservative. Nichoel raises from early position on Leo's big blind and Tad tells me, “This is free money.” Every one folds but not before someone at the table says, “Girl on girl action.” Pervert.
One hand later, Nichoel raises again and the 2 seat re-raises 100K from the hijack. Nichoel calls and the flop comes . Nichoel checks and the hijack thinks for nearly a minute before moving all in for his last 230K. Now it's Nichoel's turn to think and after about 30 seconds and a count of the hijack's chips, she tosses the call out into the middle. Her instincts are good and she's ahead with pocket 4's. The hijack has A-Q. Tad and Lisa start chanting together, “Low cards! Low cards!” Tad says, “Low 2 times,” and the turn is the keeping Nichoel in the lead. Only an ace or queen now will lose the pot for her. It's the same card that cost her before... the that comes on the river.
“Nooooooo!” Tad says and falls literally backwards onto the ground. Lisa yells with contempt in her voice... “rivered again????” Tad stands up and yells down at Nichoel, “Good call Nichoel, good call.” The other players at the table are commending her as well but it's small consolation as her stack has fallen under one million. Nichoel shrugs it off and says, “Poker,” while Tad says to me, “The river is brutal. She should be having a huge day, but she got rivered twice.”
Nichoel looks up at Tad and asks him, “Did you really fall down?” She laughs and it's obvious the river has affected her less than it has Tad. Nichoel wins a pot from Blair Hinkle and gets herself back above the million mark. She gives some of it back to Hinkle a few minutes later though and is down to about 940K when they move her table away from the secondary feature table and back out to the regular tournament area. As she goes to her new table, Phil Ivey comes up to Nichoel and wishes her luck telling her that he has $5,000 on a woman to win at 250:1. Lisa doesn't hear this exchange and asks Phil, “What do you think of our girl Phil?” Phil smiles and says, “She's going to win.”
As Nichoel is about to sit down a person on the rail comes up and asks for her autograph. Nichoel tells me later that she thinks the guy thought she was Tiffany Michelle and she didn't know whether to sign it Tiffany or with her name. She laughed and said she signed her name though.
Nichoel tries to steal Leo’s big blind from early position again but this time Leo re-raises. Nichoel quickly folds. Nichoel loses another small pot and is down to about 800K. Tad has faith though and tells me, “Something good is going to happen real soon.” It does too. Tommy Vedes opens from the cutoff and the Austrian calls from the button. Nichoel comes along from the small blind and the flop come s. Nichoel checks, and Vedes bets 225K. The Austrian folds. Nichoel studies Vedes for a minute and counts out the 225K. She announces quietly, “I'm all in,” and pushes the remainder of her chips into the middle. The dealer counts it and it is 528K more. Nichoel is not moving and Vedes counts out 528K in chips and looks at the remainder of his stack. He asks her a question that I can't hear. She doesn't answer though. He doesn't look like he wants to call and he doesn't. He later tells Nichoel that he had A-K, which is unfortunate for Nichoel since she tells me later that she had flopped the nuts with 9-8. She's back up to 1.2 million after taking down that pot.
Her table breaks again and she is moved to a crazy table containing Elky, Joe Sebok, and Fabrice Soulier who has a mountain of chips. She wins a pot off of Fabrice to bring her stack to 1.3 million at the break. Right after the break Nichoel limps in from the hijack, or at least she thinks she has limped as she has only put out 12K and the big blind is 24K. Nichoel laughs and says, “Gee what day is this?” and puts out the rest of the call. The small blind makes it 65K to go and Nichoel calls. The flop comes and the small blind leads out for 85K. Nichoel wastes no time in calling. The turn is the and the small blind bets 200K this time. Nichoel minimum raises to 400K, a good portion of her and her opponent's stack. The small blind doesn't think too long before he announces that he is all in. It's for 637K more which would leave Nichoel with about 200K if she called and lost. She takes her glasses off and looks perplexed. She puts her hand on her head and glances down at her chips and then looks at the small blind. Shaking her head, she looks back at her cards, and starts talking to herself. Her opponent is looking a little nervous, but not overly so. Nichoel decides to fold and her opponent is gracious and shows her pocket aces. Nichoel smiles and says, “The sick thing is I had 8-6 of spades.” She's now at 800K.
Two people from Poker Royalty come over and grab Tad and take him into the corner of the Amazon Room. About 10 minutes later he comes back to Nichoel with a piece of paper and tells her to sign it. “I want to read it first,” she says. “I read it,” he said. “It's good.” She looks at him, but I can tell she trusts him. “OK,” she says, signing it, “But if something happens, I'm going to kick your ass.”
Nichoel picks up a nice pot when she moves all in over the top of a James Akenhead raise on a flop and he folds. This puts her back up to 1.25 million. She gets to the dinner break with just about a million in chips. I join her and Tad again for dinner and she tells me that she feels fine. She eats a light meal while answering texts from friends and family. She admits to me that she's a little tired of all the interviews. A bit distracted, she leaves her sunglasses at the restaurant and Tad has to run back there to get them while she heads back to play.
Her table breaks again and a floor person hands her three racks. Nichoel has three stacks of chips at this time and laughs. “What do I need all of these for?” She moves to Kenny Tran's table and hovers around the 800K mark for what seems like forever. Tad has played with Kenny many times in the past and says to him, “Give Nichoel some of your chips.” Tran says, “We got a cheerleader!” and adds good naturedly, “You can't be married to her, you don't play good enough.”
A friend of Nichoel and Tad's, Tom Schneider, moves to her table to vacate the empty spot that is created when Tran busts. Tom's wife Julie is dancing on the side lines and does a cheer for Nichoel after she shoves all in first to act from the button to pick up the blinds. Nichoel is trying to be patient but her stack is getting short. Down to about 20 big blinds, she moves all in first to act from the cutoff and when the small blind moves all in very quickly after looking at her cards, I know she's in trouble.
She is. He has Aces and all she has is . No miracle comes and she smiles and collects her stuff. She walks over to the table Leo Margets is at and gives her a hug and congratulates her on being the last woman standing. She walks out of the Amazon Room, the ESPN cameras following her. Tad puts an arm around her and she has a smile on her face.
That's the way I'd like to remember Nichoel Peppe... that smile on her face. She might not have won the Main Event, but she's a winner in my book.